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23 December 2018

The Four Beastly Regimes Interpreted - (Daniel 7:15-27)

Synopsis:  The vision of the fourth beast with the arrogant “little horn” is interpreted in the second half of Chapter 7 (Daniel 7:15-28)

Horned Dinosaur - Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash.com
Nebuchadnezzar was troubled earlier by his dream of the great image, likewise, Daniel is found troubled at the end of his vision of four beasts ascending from the sea. This is a conceptual link that demonstrates the two visions are directly related (Daniel 2:1, 7:15).
The four “beasts” represent four kings and their respective kingdoms. In the vision, the “beasts” are seen ascending “from the sea”; in the interpretation “kings” are said to ascend “from the earth.” The interpretation now moves out of the symbolical into the historical. The “earth” represents peoples from which the earthly kingdoms originate.
In the vision, a “Son of Man” figure receives everlasting dominion over all nations; in the interpretation, the “saints of the Most-High” receive sovereignty; the “Son of Man,” thus, symbolizes the people of God.
The verb rendered “rise” in verse 17 is the same one used in Daniel 2:21 for God who “removes and raises up kings.” The same verb is used repeatedly in Chapter 3 each time it states that Nebuchadnezzar “set up” his idolatrous image. The passage does not state who or what “set up” the four beastly kingdoms; implicit in the statement is that they rise in opposition to the sovereignty of God.
Each “beast” represents a “king” and a “kingdom” (verse 23), each is set in contrast to the “saints of the most-high” destined to receive an everlasting kingdom.
None of the four kingdoms is identified by name. The interpretation is focused on the last beast and its “little horn.” The first beast almost certainly symbolizes Babylon: the identifications of the remaining three remain uncertain. Insufficient data is provided to identify them.
What is stated about the beasts is general and could fit several different nations. For example, the presence of “wings” indicates swiftness in conquest but that is characteristic of many empires; several that succeeded Babylon conquered vast territories over short periods of time; Persia, Greece and Rome, for example.
The little horn appears “stouter than its fellows,” the other ten horns; it becomes more prominent than the others only after it appears.  This description is conceptually parallel to one found in Daniel 11:36-37 of a future king who would “do according to his will and magnify himself above all.”
The “little horn” will “make war with the saints and prevail against them.” “Saints” refers to the same group that is to “receive the kingdom” but, first, the saints must endure an assault by the “little horn” and, apparently, defeat at his hands. This description fits the preceding image of the fourth beast that “trampled the remnant with its feet,” the “remnant” being identical with the group against which the “little horn” wages war. This understanding is confirmed in the next paragraph where the horn “speaks words against the Most-High and wears out his saints” (Daniel 7:25).
Whether this malevolent king attempts to subjugate other nations is not a concern of the interpretation, the focus is on his effort to destroy the “saints.” He prevails over them “until the Ancient of Days arrives, and justice is granted for the saints.” Only when God intervenes do they receive the kingdom.

The ten horns represent ten kings. A horn distinct from the ten will rise up after the ten have appeared (verse 24). This last king is “diverse” from the others and “casts down three.” Whether the ten kings reign concurrently or consecutively is not stated, though their reigns must precede that of the “little horn.”
The little horn “speaks words against the Most-High and wears out the saints” (verse 25). This expands on the earlier description of its mouth that “speaks great things.” This may include claims of divine authority and status that rightly belong only to Yahweh.  Words that “wear out” the saints suggest royal edicts designed to harm their well-being.
The “little horn” attempts to “change times and the law.” This confirms its trespass onto divine territory. As Daniel previously declared, God alone is the one who “changes times and seasons”; the little horn presumes upon God’s prerogative (Daniel 2:21).
Times” is a generic term and can refer to time delimited in any number of ways; weeks, months, years, and so on (Aramaic, zeman). The Septuagint Greek version translates the Aramaic word with kairos, meaning, “season, set time.” In view are the calendrical rituals specified in the Levitical regulations, the annual feasts and Sabbaths, which the “little horn” attempts to change (Leviticus 23:1-4).
The “war” against the saints will last for a “time, times, and a dividing of time.” This is sometimes interpreted to be a period of three and one-half years, but the Aramaic is not that precise. It reads “time (singular), times (plural) and part of a time.”  The last clause means any part or portion of a full “time,” however long that may be. It does not necessarily mean a half of a period, only a portion of it.
The preceding kingdoms “were given lengthening of life for a season and a time.” Since the same temporal terms are applied to the first three kingdoms, and since each endured for different lengths of time, the “season and time” is not a literal number. Each was “given” dominion and life by God, the one who changes “times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21).
The description of the period of a “time, times and part of a time” is not the duration of the reign of the “little horn,” but the period during which he “speaks words against the Most High,” wages war against the saints, and attempts to “change times and the law.” The things “given into his hand” signify that God remains in firm control of events.
The period of suffering comes to an end at the appointed time. In contrast, the victory of the saints is to endure forever. The “little horn” loses dominion; he is “consumed and destroyed.” The time of oppression is part of the process to establish God’s kingdom, otherwise, why would God “give” persecuting power to a malevolent ruler?
The interpretation ends with the “kingdom and dominion” given to the “people of the saints.” The kingdom is given to one “likened unto a son of man,” then to the “saints.” Again, the “son of man” is seen to represent the saints of God.
The passage does not present an explicit theology about the Messiah. However, in verse 27, the plural pronoun gives way to a singular: it is “his kingdom” and “all dominions will serve him”. The singular pronouns refer to the “son of man” figure. Whether Daniel intended this switch to refer to a future messianic figure, this grammatical change provided Jesus with the basis for his self-identification as “the Son of the Man.”
The chapter concludes with Daniel troubled and terrified by his vision, indicating that he did not understand it. But he kept the matter in his heart. This sets the stage for further illumination in the next vision (Daniel 8:27, “and I wondered at the vision, but none understood it”).
To this point, only the first beast can be identified with certainty, the lion is Babylon. The beastly symbols of the next three regimes are enigmatic and some features may fit more than one historical kingdom. The pattern of four beasts rising in succession from the sea indicates that the second, third and fourth kingdoms follow Babylon in historical sequence. History provides good candidates for the second and third kingdoms, Medo-Persia and Macedonia under Alexander the Great.
Some commentators view Media and Persia as separate powers and interpret the second and third beats, accordingly. But in Daniel, Media and Persia are consistently referred to as a single combined kingdom, the “Medes and the Persians” (Daniel 5:286:86:12-158:209:1).
Cyrus the Great annexed Media to his empire in 550-549 B.C., ten years before his conquest of Babylon. Babylon fell to a combined force of Medes and Persians. Media was an equal partner in the arrangement but, later, was overshadowed by Persia. After annexing Media, Cyrus conquered two major rival powers, Babylon (539 B.C.), then Lydia in Asia Minor (546 B.C.).
When Cyrus died, his empire stretched from northwest India in the east to the Aegean Sea in the west, the largest empire the world had ever seen. His son, Cambyses (reigned 530-522 B.C.), later added Egypt to the empire (525 B.C.). This background fits the description of the bear with one side higher than the other, three ribs in its mouth, and a mandate to “devour much flesh.” The three ribs would then represent Persia’s conquests of Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt.
The leopard with four wings and four heads that was “given dominion” fits Alexander the Great and his Macedonian empire. He became the king of Macedonia in 336 B.C. and crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C. to attack the Persian Empire, which he conquered by 331 B.C.  Thus, Alexander overthrew the massive Persian realm within three short years to establish Macedonian sovereignty from Greece to India.
Alexander died only a few years after the downfall of Persia (323 B.C.). His death caused conflicts over the succession to the throne. In the end, his empire was divided among four generals, Ptolemy (Egypt), Antigonus (Asia Minor), Cassander (Macedonia), and Lysimachus (Thrace). The wings of the leopard point to its rapidity in conquest and its four heads to the division of Alexander’s domain into four smaller realms after his death.
This background points to the probable identifications of the first three “beasts”; specifically, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Macedonia.  All the provided pieces fit.
The preceding is helpful, but the vision focuses on the fourth beast and its “little horn.” The Roman Empire is proposed often as the fourth beast. Rome did absorb what remained of the Macedonian kingdoms when it expanded into the eastern Mediterranean region. However, the Roman empire does not fit well with the picture of ten kings with three removed to make room for an eleventh. Rome had more than ten emperors and nowhere is there a sequence of ten in which three were removed for an eleventh.
The next vision will provide additional information to identify this fourth kingdom and its little horn (Daniel 8:98:20-25).

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